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I like to shop. I browse eBay and Facebook sale pages, combing through random items to find something I can wear. I have pretty bad acne scars on a lot of my body; I really need clothes that go up as high as possible in the back, which significantly limits my clothing choices, especially during Spring and Summer, or when I’m looking for occasion wear/party clothes/going out gear. Additionally, I have differently sized breasts (an A cup and not-quite-a-C cup) so a lot of tops or dresses hang funnily (on a visible slant) making me look messy or unkempt, no matter what I do. So despite being 4 dress sizes smaller than I was as a teenager–and being really pleased about that–I still have a number of issues, both body-image-based and practical, when going shopping.

He used to mock me for wearing “that same dress” over and over again–sometimes, we’d walk into a store with dresses of a certain cut, and he’d start laughing and pointing out how my one dress was on the wall. It was as if he couldn’t understand that the reason I refuse to wear dresses with low backs, is because numerous people audibly let out a shocked gasp when they see my upper back unexpectedly. It almost always happens the first time someone new sees me with my back exposed, but some people do it more than once. A GP once saw my back (after I had *warned* him how bad it was, after I had made an appointment to talk about my skin) gasped loudly, and said, “Yes, I see what you mean. We’re not talking dermatology, we’re talking a referral to plastic surgery, but they won’t be able to do anything for you.” This, despite the obvious flare-up of leaking, painful cysts that I really wanted treatment for… but nope. Even a trained medical professional couldn’t see past the ruined surface of my skin to the fact that there was physical pain and I needed help for it.

Yet my “partner” (I use the term so, so loosely) couldn’t seem to understand the emotional cost to me, of wearing a dress that was revealing in the back. He persisted in buying me dresses that had deep, v-shaped backs, and being wounded when I wouldn’t wear them outside of the house unless I could wear a cardigan or something with them (despite the fact that I would wear them around the house, out of thankfulness that he’d bought me something, yes something of limited use, but I was taking his gifts at face value and being grateful for them).

Once, I said I wanted to choose a dress, if he really wanted to buy me something–I was, again, assuming that he’d just forgotten how my skin makes me feel, and not actively trying to force me to wear things that appealed to him yet made me feel like shit–and I loaded up eBay or some other site, and did my usual. I set the sort function to show me highest price heading to lowest price, because if you do it the other way, you can easily creep up on things that are more expensive than you can afford (you just keep clicking ahead to the next page and before you know it, you’ve gone £100 over your pre-set budget and you’re looking at a dress you’d never buy). Whereas if you start off thinking, “Not these dresses, you can’t justify spending that much, but you may as well look at them and see if anyone is selling them cheaper in a few pages,” then even if you don’t find anything, you’ve let yourself down gently.

“No, you can’t do that–that’s not fair!” he said, as soon as I set the filters. I stopped and stared; I was genuinely puzzled; it took me several minutes to work out that he thought I was deliberately trying to spend as much of his money as possible (an odd belief, when I repeatedly told him to stop throwing money at me, over the course of the relationship; towards the end, I started sending him electronic rent for the room that he was meant to be letting me stay in 2-3 days a week, despite *him* refusing to take the money each month when I offered it).

It sounds silly, but my feelings were so incredibly hurt by that shopping incident. Who assumes that (after they have *badgered* you into accepting a gift from them) you’re out to take as much of their money as possible? And–he had been shopping with me in stores before, many times, and seen me look at the expensive or designer rails, before moving to the cheaper stuff; and then once I was looking at the cheaper stuff, that’s when I would tell him that if he really wanted to get me something, could he make it from that side of the shop (because as I was fond of telling him, I was a student and stay-at-home mom, and didn’t *need* designer clothing or evening dresses, etc).

But he was like that about so many things–if there was any possible way of viewing anything I did unkindly, he chose to view it that way… and then punished me for it (mocking me for not wearing the things he thought I should, assuming in every instance that I was out for something other than what I had stated, accusing me of manipulating him by leaving the house, despite the fact that I was usually leaving because he’d followed me from room to room screaming at me over some transgression or other, and would not stop and let me go to bed…).

There’s no easy way to look back on all this and not feel like an idiot; he used to essentially throw money at me, refuse to let me pay my own way, actively hide our relationship from some people, and then when I said I felt like a prostitute, he’d shout and scream and “how very dare you accuse me of treating you that way,” all over the place… what a moron, eh? I should have known how he felt about me the first time he shamed me into wearing something he’d bought (that was too short, low-cut in the back, and in colours that I would never choose to wear) because, well, he’d spent the money and I should be thankful for his gifts.